Game of Thrones returns — welcome back to Westeros, ladies and hedge knights, wenches and thieves. You are forgiven for thinking in the episode’s first few minutes that you still had the dial on AMC and had stumbled onto The Walking Dead, but things picked right back up north of the wall where the show left them, with Sam lost in the whiteness and coming across something, well, undead. In case you had forgotten, Winter is Coming. In fact, it seems to be here. And for most of the rest of the hour we checked back in on all of those poor Southren folk who know not what wickedness their way comes. Hit the jump for more on who we saw (and who we didn’t) in this episode that moved from ice to fire.
Before we get into all of that though, I want to comment on my approach to reviewing the show. Yes I’ve read the books but I’m starting to feel like that is almost a hinderance. In Season Two the anticipation I felt over certain events or character revelations overshadowed my enjoyment of them actually happening … especially if they went against the book or happened in some totally inexplicable way. Some of the things that the show has done (giving us more Robb in the field, expanding the Tyrell storyline) have been great, while other things … perhaps not so much (like inexplicable character changes). On my second watch of Season Two though, when I knew how things would actually play out, I enjoyed it a lot more. So this go-round, instead of harping too much on the changes, I’ll try to (as coherently as possible) stick to just what the show is doing and how it’s doing it (though I still might have to comment on book versus screen from time to time, it’s a habit). Oh, and no book spoilers!
Things really started off with a bang though, and that intensity lasted for the full hour. It’s of little surprise, though; the book on which this season was based (oops, book stuff already!), A Storm of Swords, is so far the best of the series. Or at least … the one with the most badass, emotionally tumultuous and astonishing moments. The series wasted no time in revealing some of the biggest surprises in that book, either.
I have to first of all commend the show though for selecting only a few stories to drop in on instead of catching up with everyone in the realm. One of the issues with the show last year was that with the advent of so many new characters, many of them (particularly beloved ones) got very little time. I know that they only have ten or so hours to tell the story (which is not at all enough), but already in “Valar Dohaeris” the slower pace and more in-depth dialogue helped orient viewers, particularly non-book readers, with the where, who and what.
The first thing we learned was that the snow hides a lot of things, like zombies, giants (!!) and Ciaran Hinds, who plays Mance Rader, King Beyond The Wall (but don’t bow to him). Jon finds a way to smooth talk his way into not being killed, showing more resourcefulness than he has in a long while, setting up his play as a spy among the Wildlings. Elsewhere, his friend Sam forgets to warn everyone about the White Walkers because, well, White Walkers. But at least Sam lived, which is a pretty rare thing in Westeros.
Speaking of those who lived, Tyrion emerged from the Battle of Blackwater with a scar on his face (but retained his nose), shunted away to be forgotten after a murder attempt engineered by his sister, and not much compassion from his hero father, who is now back to being Hand of the King.
Tyrion enjoyed the high life in the second season, but this year he’s been laid so low it seems unlikely he’ll rise again (at least, any time soon). Tywin verbally lacerates him — in a marked departure from being the “Grandpa Tywin” of Harrenhal who spoke so easily to his cupbearer Arya — ridiculing his attempts to make a claim on the family home of Casterly Rock. Still, a lot of leisurely time was spent with Tyrion and even moreso Bronn, who brought some much needed levity and banter to the proceedings (pre-Tywin, at least).
While the Lannisters have alienated so much of the King’s Landing population and have always found themselves extremely unpopular whilst in power, upstart Margaery Tyrell, who Joffrey promised to marry at the end of last season, has gone about remedying that. Though she does so in Joffrey’s name, it is not Joffrey who exits the litter. Instead, Margaery takes toys to the orphans and speaks to them personally, promising to take care of them. Margaery is positioning herself to be beloved by the common folk — something the Lannisters made a poor calculation to ignore early on. Now Cersei, realizing more and more her loss of power, gives Margaery a hard side-eye while Joffrey praises and defends her to his mother.
Sansa, who has no power and never has, reconsiders Littlefinger’s offer to smuggle her out of King’s Landing, which Ros whispers to Shae to watch out for. When confronted with the option of putting one’s fate in the hands of Joffrey versus Littlefinger though, Littlefinger will win every time. Sansa is developing a better sense of who to trust, and while Littlefinger is not ideal, the alternative seems far worse.
Across the sea, Davos, another survivor, returns to his King, Stannis, and is immediately thrown in the dungeon just as his friend Salladhor Saan warned him. Davos has always believed fully in Stannis and supported him without question, and seeing things from his perspective definitely makes a case against Melisandre by Stannis’ side, what with her burning people alive and causing him to turn on his most loyal supporters. She claims she could have prevented the carnage at Blackwater, but is it true?
And then, of course, dragons. They’re bigger, but not big enough, so Dany seeks out an army in the meantime. She finds the Unsullied, eunuchs who are basically tortured into submission and dehumanized until they are mindless fighters who lack all emotion and fear nothing. Helpful, but Dany is bothered by the slave aspect, though Jorah convinces her they’re better off with her anyway. In a great finale, the greatest knight in the realm is revealed to be alive and newly sworn to Dany — Barristan Selmy, a.k.a. Barristan the Bold. Things are about to kick up a notch.
Episode Rating: A
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Also, Robb went to Harrenhal, it was gruesome, and he meets a survivor called Qyburn. This whole situation about the sack of Harrenhal by whom and for whom and what’s going on now seems to be a big deviation from the books (not necessarily a bad one, but it seemed shoe-horned in in this episode), but my word count is already ridiculous so I’ll leave that alone for now!
— “You must be proud to be as clever as a man whose balls brush his knees” – Tyrion.
— Twelve full minutes before nudity! A record?
— So Tyrion kept his nose, and Cersei commented on it. Clever little callback to the books (wherein the nose was lost).
— I wondered how the Barristan plot would play out on the show, given that in the books he actually travels with Dany for a long time under the name “Arstan Whitebeard,” and isn’t found out until late in A Storm of Swords (and it’s a fantastic reveal). Still, the show did a good job of making his appearance suitably epic, given we haven’t seen him since Season One. Chills!
— Speaking of chills, in the opening credits to see Winterfell up in smoke? I seriously almost cried. I did legitimately get choked up. I love those credits so much [sigh].
— “The truth is either terrible or boring” – Sansa
— The CGI was on point, from the Giants to the White Walker to the dragons BBQing in mida-air, that terrifying bug thing and the warlock, too
— Davos: “You drank with me at my wedding!” Salladhor: “And you drank with me at four of mine, but I don’t ask for favors!”